Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Easter in December?

More Swans on the Flathead River
East of Perma, Montana

No fife did hum nor battle drum
Did sound its dread tattoo
But the Angelus bell o'er the Liffey swell
Rang out through the foggy dew.
--Irish ballad 

To hear the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem sing this song of the Easter Rebellion in 1916, click here.  And yes, in the course of this post I'll tie in both fog and Easter (and the Irish as well--in the form of a church built for an Irish community in, I kid you not, 1916, the year of the Easter Rebellion).

Monday morning I rose with a list of chores that I would need to get done during the day, if only to feel as if I'd accomplished something.  But even as I stripped the bed and filled the washing machine, I watched the sun light up the hills surrounding our home.  You should never pass on a sunny day when you live in a winter climate, so I threw caution to the wind, grabbed my camera and my new Garmin Montana 650t GPS unit (note how I made sure to get the Montana and not the Colorado or Alaska model), and hit the road in search of more photographic opportunites, not to mention geocaches.  Photography is, after all, the use of light (φῶς, φωτός) to write or draw (γράφειν), and this morning promised beautiful light.

I hadn't made it to Highway 200 (roughly five miles from home) before I was in a deep fog--the kind that you really hate to drive through.  But by now I was on a mission, and besides, I really did have to get to Polson to pick up new test strips for my blood glucose meter.  The fog held on through Plains, but by the time I reached Paradise, some six miles further east, I was back in sunshine and all set for a great day on the river.

The first of my pre-programmed geocaches was a couple miles east of Perma on the side of Highway 200, and I quickly added "Sword Play" to my list of finds.   A few miles further another cache was hidden, this time by a rather long pull out on the river side of the road.   The name of the cache was "Why did you stop here?" and the cache owner had suggested we come up with a reason--presumably one other than "I wanted to find your cache."  The swans were swimming (may have been seven, I didn't count them all), but I grabbed a couple as seen through the trees above.  I also grabbed the cache, and proceeded on to the next on my list.

The Mission Mountains
West of Dixon, Montana

My next scheduled caches were in the town of Dixon, but before I reached the town, the Mission Mountains drew my attention, and I just had to pull off the road and take their portrait.  The Mission Mountains are one of the more spectacular ranges in our part of the country, and they never fail to impress visitors.  Well, there have been times I've brought guests to see them, only to have the mountains hide completely behind fog or clouds.  Who knew mountains could be so shy.

The Flathead River at Dixon
Dixon, Montana

I tried for two different caches in Dixon, one at a fishing access by the river and the other in the town's tiny city park, but I was unsuccessful with both.  I did get a great view of the river, a view I had never before seen, and looking downstream, there was a bald eagle perched high on a tree along the river's bank.  I switched lens and took several shots of the eagle, but I'm not particularly happy with any of them.

Just east of Dixon, I turned north off MT 200 onto Highway 212 and stopped almost immediately to grab the cache hidden under the bridge spanning the Jocko River.  The cache's name is Jocko's Troll, and the clue suggested looking just where you'd expect to find a troll--well under the bridge, silly.  There was a hint suggesting that the cache was along the Jocko under a rocko, but when I found it, the cache was in plain sight, with no rock covering it at all.  After signing the log, I carefully replaced the cache where I found it, then laid a large flat rock over it.  Wouldn't want the hint to be wrong now would I?

Bald Eagle leaving its perch
Old Agency (Dixon), Montana

North of the river, as I was approaching the Lake County line, I passed two bald eagles perched on power poles along the highway.  Turning around, I pulled off the road opposite the large birds and caught several shots of the two of them, before they finally flew out of range.  And yes, I know I clipped his wings in this shot, but he looks so majestic flying there that I'm using it anyway.

Turning the car back around, I stopped to grab a cache at the entrance to the National Bison Range, and at the same time grabbed another photo of the snow-capped Mission Mountains.  The one peak I wanted to capture, however, was behind some trees and I figured I'd have plenty more views of that peak before the day was out.  Famous last words.

St. Joseph's Catholic Church
Moiese, Montana

South of the town of Charlo, I turned onto Dublin Gulch Road and grabbed the cache hidden at St. Joseph's Catholic Church.  I've passed this church many a time, but I'd never stopped to read the historic marker on the front of the church.  The full text for the placard can be found here, but the main items of interest are that the church was built in 1916 (I believe), had its last service in 1978, and is one of only two churches in Montana built in the Craftsman style.  See.  That's why I go geocaching.  I learn so much about the area.

After leaving the church, I relied on my GPS unit to lead me to more caches, having forgotten to grab the Montana Atlas which would show me the back roads that cross the landscape connecting the various area farms.  Some of these roads are blocked by fences, and most are dirt, but hey, I was out exploring, and I didn't have to be home until 4 or so to fix supper for Kevin.  Oops, it's already 3 and I'm an hour from home and haven't done my shopping yet.  Oh well.  It will all work out.

My main destination for today's trip was actually the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, a 4,027 acre refuge established in 1921. I figured with the light and all, I'd be sure to catch some birds in my lens. I had programmed several caches hidden around the Refuge in my Garmin, and figured I'd catch a few more before I continued on to Polson and shopping. I did find the cache at the Stocky Memorial, a parking area dedicated to the memory of biologist Dwight "Stocky" Stockstad, who was responsible for much of the Refuge being set aside, including the 70 acres dedicated to him. I previously had no idea such a place (or person) existed.

The next two caches managed to elude me, even though my GPS told me I was right on top of them.  What I did notice was that my fingers were getting very cold, and the beautiful sunny day had disappeared into a heavy bank of fog.  I caught the Easter 2014 cache, so named for the date on which it was hidden.  The clue suggested that the cache site would tie in to the name, and sure enough, when I rolled away the rock, all was revealed.  The cache container, a camouflaged plastic Easter egg, gave me some trouble when I tried to open it, but it all worked out in the end.

Down the road another mile, I stopped at the Leon Community Center, but again, even though my GPS told me I was at ground zero, I found nothing and felt even colder than I had earlier.  At this point, I was one mile away from US Highway 93, and I decided to call it a day.

Traffic on 93 was moving very slowly, as the fog had moved in completely.  The mountains, just a couple miles distant, were hidden to the point of being invisible through the fog.  I drove north, and by the time I reached the Tribal Governmental Complex at Charlo, I was back out of the fog, but I had no desire to seek out any more caches today.  There's always tomorrow, and with the seven I did find, I passed my goal of getting 300 caches reported by the end of 2014.  (Geocaching.com now shows me with a lifetime total of 302 caches, and that will probably change before New Year's Eve.)

In Polson, I was doing my shopping when Kevin called to ask if supper would be ready by four.  Oops.  Nope.  I'm in Polson, over a hour away from home.  Kevin suggested that he would get something for himself and suggested that I do the same.  Accordingly, when I saw Bambino's Pizza and Pasta alongside Polson's main street, I stopped and had a wonderful dinner of Lasgna Fresca, with a side salad and fresh, crusty bread to dip in a balsamic/oil/herb mix.  I left the restaurant with a piece of Tiramisu in a box, and the sure knowledge that I will return to Bambino's in the near future.

Polson Bay and The Narrows, Flathead Lake
Polson, Montana

Friday, December 12, 2014

Star Gazer and the Swan

Trumpeter Swans on the Flathead River
Near Perma, Montana

She'd her apron wrapped around her
And he took her for a swan
But oh and alas
It was she, Polly Von.

To hear Peter, Paul and Mary sing this beautiful Irish ballad, click here.

We seem to have a large population of Trumpeter Swans in our area this fall.  At least I'm assuming they are Trumpeter Swans, the largest bird native to North America.  They are known to live in both Ninepipes and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges, both of which are close to us, just to the east of Sanders County in Lake County.  They could be Tundra Swans, which are slightly smaller.  All the guides I consulted said that it is hard to tell the two species apart.  As a very amateur ornithologist, with at best an 800 mm lens set up on my camera, I was could not get a clear enough shot of the birds to be able to detect whether they have a red spot (Trumpeter) or a yellow spot (Tundra) on their bills--but apparently, even that distinction doesn't always apply.  In any event, I set out yesterday to see what I could find, since I usually see the birds on the river when Kevin is driving and I have no chance of getting a decent shot of them.  In my sightings, they range from the reservoir at Thompson Falls in the west almost to Dixon in the east, and are most commonly seen in the area around Seepay Creek, west of Perma.  That's where I saw these birds yesterday, and I crossed a barbed wire fence, trespassing on someone's land, to get the picture shown above.

In actuality, I set off yesterday to do two things I dearly love, geocaching and photography.  Last spring, I had the opportunity to use a Garmin Montana GPS unit, and while I found it somewhat frustrating--being handed an expensive and complicated tool with no instructions on how to use the thing--the more research I did, the more I felt that I had to add one of these to my own arsenal.  Accordingly, when Kevin asked what I wanted for Christmas, I had no trouble coming up with a response.  Kevin ordered one on-line and it was delivered Wednesday afternoon.  I debated whether I should open the box, or wrap it and put it under the tree, but in the end, I followed my doctor's orders (I had asked my Facebook friends what I should do and my physician said "Go definitely," so I went.)  Most of the rest of my friends who responded agreed that I should start using the thing immediately.  After all, life is short and we have no promises for tomorrow.  Right?

Pat's Knob as seen from MT Highway 28
Near Plains, Montana

I got started geocaching back in 2006, while I was in California during the last year of my mother's life.  I bought a Garmin eTrex Legend and thought it would be a good tool for measuring how far I was hiking through the redwoods each week.  Turns out, the overstory in a redwood forest is generally so thick that the satellites can't penetrate the foliage, and the unit was useless for my purposes.  It was, however, ideal for searching out geocaches.  And if you don't know about geocaching, I recommend visiting geocaching.com to learn more about this passtime.  The best description I've seen is "I use multi-million dollar US Government equipment to find Tupperware containers in the woods.   What do you do for fun?"  Geocaching got its start in the Portland, Oregon area, and has grown into a world wide hobby.  At the time I started, there were over 1,500 caches hidden within a 100 mile radius of my California home, and as that home sits three miles from the Pacific Ocean, you have to figure that at least half that circle is under water.  By comparison, there were only about a hundred or so caches within 100 miles of Missoula, Montana in 2006.   To show how much the hobby has grown, there are now 6,178 caches within 100 miles of Plains, Montana.  I don't want to do the math.  You can see the exponential growth for yourself.  Suffice it to say that there are plenty to keep me busy for the rest of my life, and that's without leaving home.  Caches are hidden world-wide from Afghanistan (250) to Zimbabwe (188), and recently a cache was taken into space and placed in the Russian section of the International Space Station.  I don't think I'll be finding that one any time soon.

The Flathead River at Koo-Koo-Sint Fishing Access
Near Paradise, Montana

I enjoy combining geocaching with photography, and the camera around my neck is a good excuse for me to be out in the open, searching around for something hidden.  Who knows, maybe I just lost my lens cap and that's why I'm down on the ground digging around the base of a tree.  It's handy to have such an excuse because you really want to protect the cache from "muggles," as non-cachers are known--people who might move or even destroy a cache should they become aware of its existence.

Armed with my Christmas present, I set off yesterday morning in search of a couple of caches that had been eluding me.  I figured it would be a good test to see just how much better the Montana 650t is over my old eTrex Legend.  And oh my, I have to say I fell in love with the new toy, er tool.  Workers at the Clark Fork Valley Hospital have placed four caches on the hospital grounds, and I had been unable to find two.  (I hadn't even attempted the other two.)  With my new unit in hand, I drove to the site of the first cache, and walked right to the cache.  I can't explain why I was unable to find it before as it seemed very obvious this time.  What I do know is that using my eTrex Legend, the coordinates appeared to be all over the place, and this time, with the Montana 650t, they stayed fixed in one location--the place where the cache was hidden.

Well now, if that was so easy, what about finding another cache that had successfully resisted my efforts.  Montana Highway 28 runs 47 miles from Plains at the southwest end to Elmo at the northeast.  There are 19 geocaches along that route--all but one right alongside the highway.  I had previously found 16 of the caches, avoiding the one that was two miles off the highway and not attempting one where major construction was being done at the time.  But one cache, appropriately called Spam, had stayed hidden even though I went back three times, and even took Kevin with me to try to find the darned thing.  I used my eTrex Legend.  I used the geocaching app on my iPhone.  I knew I was in the right area, but again, the co-ordinates were all over the place.  I could stand in one spot and be told that I was 4 feet from the cache, but if I circled around and came back to that same location, I would see that I was now 28 feet from the cache.  Frustrating doesn't begin to describe the situation.  Yesterday, with my Montana 650t, I found the cache--if not immediately, then pretty quickly.  And in fact, the new GPS led me directly to the cache.  It's my fault if I didn't see it right away.

The Perma Pictographs
Near Perma, Montana

Driving back toward Plains, I stopped at the site where construction had stymied me last Spring, and quickly found the diabolically clever cache hidden there.  I also took the first of yesterday's photos, the view of Pat's Knob shown above.  Pat's Knob is the second highest peak in the Coeur d'Alene range of the Bitterroot Mountains, and I have written about it and my trips up the mountain several times in the past.  John W. Patrick was one of the earliest white settlers in the Plains area, and the Plains Chamber of Commerce explains the mountain's name on their website.

After a quick lunch at Subway, I headed east on Montana 200 in an attempt to find more of the caches hidden in this area.  The first place I stopped was at the Koo-koo-sint Fishing Access on the Flathead River.  David Thompson is the most important person in the northwest you've never heard of.  At least that's what I believe.  Thompson is the man the British government sent out to beat Lewis and Clark and thus solidify Great Britain's claims to the Oregon Country.  He didn't succeed, but in the attempt, he did more to map the Northwest than anyone else.  His name lives on in Sanders County through the Thompson River, the Little Thompson River, the Thompson Lakes, and of course the Sanders County Seat, Thompson Falls.  Because of his habit of going out at night, sextant in hand, the Salish people living in this area called him Koo-koo-sint, or Star Gazer.  Two locations in Sanders County bear the Salish name, the other being a hiking trail between Plains and Thompson Falls.  Thompson has become one of my heroes, and I heartily recommend that you learn everything you can about him.

Just east of the fishing access, Highway 200 enters the Flathead Indian Reservation.  This is the only place you can cross into the Reservation without seeing a sign so stating.  According to a friend and former Tribal Chair, James Steele Jr., the tribe got tired of constantly replacing the sign and no longer notes the change in jurisdiction.  I picked up a couple more caches along Highway 200, one of which was at a beautiful spot on the north side of the river, west of Perma.  This is a sacred site for the people of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and one should approach it with reverence.  Unfortunately, that has not always been the response of visitors to the Perma Pictographs, and many of the scenes have been destroyed.  I have to admit, that I was unable to see any writing on the rock walls, but the location itself is so beautiful and so peaceful, that I can see many returns in the future.

All told, I added seven new caches to my list of those found, bringing me to a lifetime total of 295 finds.  My goal for 2014 is to pass 300.  With only five to go, and with this great tool now at my disposal, I don't think that will be a problem.

Camas Creek entering the Flathead River
Perma, Montana

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Day 4

White Pine County Courthouse
Ely, Nevada

On this, our last day on the road, only the first 138 miles were new territory to me.  Once we got to Wells, Nevada, the rest of the way home would all be on familiar roads.  But first, we had to get out of Ely.  It was a cold morning, and we quickly packed up the truck and headed to breakfast.  Once again, Yelp let us down, as the spot that seemed most promising turned out to be a major disappointment.  Breakfast was ok, but not great, and the waitress and the cook seemed to be more concerned with catching up on gossip rather than tending to their customers.  A quick stop in front of the courthouse allowed me to get the photo I should have taken the night before when the building was beautifully lit, but hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

On the way out of town, I checked the temperature.  According to the truck it was 19 degrees outside, the coldest temperature we had seen since the previous Spring.  We headed east a ways on US 50, then turned north to stay on US 93 for most of the rest of the way home.

I have always been fascinated by the Nevada landscape, mostly bare, with lots of mountains, and White Pine County proved no different.  We crossed into Elko County, the northeastern corner of Nevada, without noticing any change and in time reached Wells, crossing under I-80 and heading on north toward Idaho and home.

U.S. Highway 93 in Southern Elko County
Elko County, Nevada

The first town you come to in Idaho is Twin Falls, and all I can say is that this town sure has grown since the last time I went through it in 1997.  Between 1990 and 2000, the city's population increased 25% and another 28% during the next decade.  The 2010 Census showed 44,125 people living in Twin Falls--a town I thought had around 15,000.  I'm not sure just what led to such an increase, but I know that Chobani's Greek Yogurt plant isn't the only reason, even if the company's largest plant is in Twin Falls.  (Greek Yogurt from Idaho?  Who knew?)

Twin Falls sits on the Snake River whose canyon Evel Knievel attempted to jump back in 1974.  He didn't succeed, but we had no problem driving across the canyon on a highway bridge.  Didn't even notice any particularly high winds, Knievel's nemesis.

Snake River Canyon (and Bridge)
Twin Falls, Idaho

We drove through Jerome County without stopping for me to grab the courthouse in the county seat, also called Jerome, and soon we were in Lincoln County.  Shoshone is the seat of Lincoln County, and while there, I did make Kevin stop so I could photograph the United Methodist Church and the Lincoln County Courthouse.

North of Lincoln County, we entered Blaine County which has to be one of the most oddly shaped counties in the United States.  It actually looks like some gerrymandered election district, with a narrow strip of land dropping south from the main body of the county.  Blaine County is where Sun Valley is located, as well as Ketchum where Ernest Hemingway committed suicide.  Those towns are on (or near) Idaho highway 75, which used to be US 93.  We wouldn't be going that way.  Instead we turned northeast toward Arco and entered Butte County.

Craters of the Moon National Monument is a lava field that covers 618 square miles and parts of five Idaho counties.  It's one of my favorite places to photograph, but I haven't been there in years.  This trip was no different, in that we drove right on by without stopping at the visitor's center or even along the road.  Just to give you an idea of the extent, Craters of the Moon is over half the size of the state of Rhode Island (admittedly a small state), or one-fifth larger than the city of Los Angeles.  It covers a lot of ground, that is.  Looking at the hardened lava, it struck me as miraculous that anyone was ever able to get a wagon train across this landscape, and yet Goodale's Cutoff allowed travelers on the Oregon Trail to do just that.
Craters of the Moon
Butte County, Idaho

On the northeastern edge of the lava flow sits the town of Arco, seat of Butte County.  Arco prides itself on being the first community in the world to have its electricity supplied by nuclear power.  The Idaho National Laboratory, successor to that first generator, still provides most of the work for the people of Arco.  We stopped for lunch in Arco, and made a decision about the rest of our way home.  Instead of heading north on US 93, a road that twists and turns through the Sawtooth Mountains, and one we had both taken many times, we would drive east on ID 33 then ID 22 and catch I-15 at Dubois, the seat of Clark County.

Dubois has a warm spot in my heart because it is home to the US Sheep Experiment Station, one of whose projects is a scientific study of why sheep are homosexual.  Now before you get your panties in a twist, think of it this way.  If you were a sheep rancher, would you be interested in buying an expensive ram, only to find that he's only interested in other rams?  Not ewes?  I didn't think so.  Your tax dollars at work, and fine work it is.

The Pioneer Mountains
Beaverhead County, Montana

From Dubois, we got on I-15, followed it to just west of Butte, where we turned west on I-90, then got back on 93 at the Wye west of Missoula.  Thirty miles later, we turned west on MT 200 and drove the last 45 miles home.  I was so glad to see our home still standing and find the kids happy and healthy, if a bit put out with us for leaving them alone for four days.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

By the Time I Get To Phoenix, Day 3

Monday morning, Kevin had some errands to run, so he left me at the motel with my books and iPhone.  As I have the geocaching app on my iPhone, I decided to see if there were any nearby caches, just so I could add Arizona to my list of states.  Sure enough, there was one just one third of a mile away, so off I went in search of the proverbial needle in the haystack.  As a rule, I do not like urban caches.  There are too many people hanging around wondering what the ... you're doing with your nose to the ground by that power station.  Also, I have no desire to be picked up by Homeland Security as a threat to public decency and order.  But this cache was hidden on a hillside covered with scree, mostly shale, and there were no buildings around.  I did have to get past the fence that bordered the sidewalk, but behind a bus shelter, the fence was open, so in I went.

 Arizona Countryside
North of Wickenburg, Arizona

I don't know how much time I spent scrambling up that hill and looking in various places, but in time the hiding spot became obvious, and I found the cache.  This was a fairly normal sized cache, hidden in a Tupperware sandwich container, but there was no writing instrument in the box.  Of course I had none with me either, so I was not able to sign the log.  I did take a photograph of the container in case anyone questioned my claim to have found the cache.

Standing up, I faced one of my worst fears--going downhill on slippery ground.  Fortunately, from this vantage point I saw what I had not seen climbing the hill.  There was a very clear trail from the hiding spot back to the sidewalk.  I didn't have to scramble down on all fours, the way I had gone up.  But somehow, even though I was wearing shoes, I managed to bruise my left foot and by the time I made it back to the motel, I could barely walk.  A month later, that injury still troubles me at times.

Kevin returned shortly after my adventure, so we packed up the truck and headed home.  With no desire on either of our parts to follow the same route we had taken southbound, we headed northwest, instead, driving toward Wickenburg, a town sixty miles northwest of Phoenix, but still in Maricopa County.  Wickenburg is the southern terminus of US 93, and it was our goal to drive 93 all the way home--well at least to where we would have to turn onto Montana 200 to get to Plains.

We've made the drive between Phoenix and Wickenburg several times, and I don't see anything scenic about the route.  This time we took a different highway, and I still didn't see anything worth mentioning, but once on 93 heading toward Las Vegas, we started climbing into the mountains and the desert showed its pretty face.

 Proposed Interstate 11
(U.S. Highway 93)
South of Hoover Dam, Arizona

Between Wickenburg and Hoover Dam, we kept seeing signs indicating that our beloved US 93 would possibly be renamed Interstate 11.  I gathered that someone felt it beneficial to connect Phoenix with Las Vegas by something other than a two-lane mountain road, but in doing my research for this post, I have learned that the proposal goes even further, with the possibility of I-11 reaching from the Mexican border to the Canadian, probably following US 95 from Vegas north.  When this will actually happen remains to be seen.  The highway is just in feasibility studies at present.

We stopped at Bullhead City, Nevada for lunch, and following a meal that was way too heavy in carbohydrates, we stopped in the parking lot long enough for me to take some photos of Lake Mead, a body of water that is dangerously low thanks to the ongoing drought the West is experiencing.  While I was standing there, camera in hand, a sight-seeing helicopter took off from the edge of the parking lot and seemed to drop right on top of me.  Yes, of course I got pictures even as I wondered if the thing was going to fall out of the sky.  But no, it righted itself and took off on what has to be one of the shortest helicopter tours around.  We didn't check to see what the five minute ride cost, but frankly, after getting a private helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon a few years ago, I'm kind of spoiled.  This ride was much too short, in my opinion, as the 'copter was landing back in the parking lot as we drove off.
 Water, Rocks, Helicopter
Hoover Dam, Nevada

We spent as little time in Vegas as possible, getting off the highway only to refuel the truck, and in a short while, we were leaving Interstate 15 and heading north again on US 93.  This section was the only part of 93 new to me.  The highway itself runs from Wickenburg to the Canadian border north of the town of Eureka, Montana.  It is the most heavily traveled highway in the state of Montana, connecting Missoula and Kalispell, with all the Missoula commuters from the Bitterroot Valley driving it daily, not to mention all the folks headed to Flathead Lake which borders the highway.  A good many Glacier National Park visitors also drive 93.  North of the international border, the highway becomes British Columbia 93, and when it crosses the Rockies into Banff National Park, it becomes Alberta 93, extending past the Columbia Ice Fields to meet up with the Yellowhead Highway north of Jasper, Alberta.  I've driven every mile of the highway from its northern end west of Edmonton to Wells, Nevada, and again from Las Vegas to its southern end at Wickenburg.  Never before had I caught the section between Wells and Vegas.

North of I-15, we crossed into Lincoln County, one of two Nevada counties I had never visited.  I'll have to go back, because this time, with the exception of a couple quick stops in the the town of Caliente, we didn't really do any sight seeing.  Caliente itself caught our attention first for the size of the Union Pacific Railroad Station there, and second for a beautiful old DeSoto parked for sale alongside the highway.  Judging by the station, Caliente was once a destination stop, probably because of the hot springs that gave the town its name.  Today that station houses the city library, other public offices, and a museum/gallery, according to Wikipedia.  I couldn't say as the closest we got to it was parked alongside the highway so I could take this picture.

 Union Pacific Station
Caliente, Nevada

The DeSoto was well worth the time it took to photograph as well, and it is for sale, but I have more vehicles than I can care for myself, so I sent the picture off to my friend Ken who is looking to buy an older DeSoto.  Who knows what will become of that.

The seat of Lincoln County is Pioche, a town we drove through without stopping.  If I'm to have a photographic record of the Court House, I'll have to return to Pioche.  Lincoln County itself was a late addition to Nevada, formed in 1866, two years after statehood.  In its original configuration, Nevada's eastern border was miles west of what it is today.  Two separate additions were made to the state, taking land from Utah Territory and what would become Arizona.  Lincoln County originally included Las Vegas, as Clark County wasn't formed until 1908.  

Rock Formation
White Pine County, Nevada

White Pine County lies north of Lincoln, and was the only other county I'd never seen in Nevada.  We crossed into White Pine in the early evening, with the intent of reaching the county seat, Ely, and there spending the night.  Ely, where US 93 crosses US 50, is an unusually large town, with several impressive structures.  We found a small, mom-and-pop motel which suited us just fine, and had a surprisingly mediocre dinner in the old jail.  One building set behind a park was brightly illumined, and I should have taken a picture.  The next morning, the White Pine County Courthouse was not nearly as photogenic.  Ely (and according to Wikipedia it is pronounced EE-lee, not Ee-Ligh) is definitely on my return trip list, and not just because it is the town where Pat Nixon was born.  The climactic scene in one of my favorite movies, Rat Race, was filmed there.  Ely, I'll be back!


Saturday, November 22, 2014

By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Day 2

Across the street from our Beaver, Utah motel was one of those super-sized gas station convenience stores that seem to be popping up everywhere these days.  Inside was a combination Mexican fast-food/Cinnabon place.  I do love my Cinnabons.  It's the one thing that makes the Salt Lake airport worthwhile.  But take heed, my friends.  If you're ever in Beaver, Utah, and want a good cinnamon roll, this is not the place to get it.  I ended up throwing half of mine in the trash, and that should tell you a lot, right there.

Just south of Beaver, Utah Highway 20 crosses the mountains to connect up with US Highway 89 some 21 miles east of Interstate 15.  As 89 was the road we would be taking on into Phoenix, we needed to cross over.  The summit on highway 20 is over 7900 feet, and this is considered the preferable route across the mountains.  I love Wikipedia's opening sentence in its description of the highway:  "State Route 20 SR-20 is a state highway in southern Utah, running 20.492 miles (32.979 km) in Iron and Garfield Counties , without directly serving or connecting any cities."  (Emphasis mine)  The highway has some history, and I recommend reading the Wikipedia article about it.  I don't recall anything about our crossing, though, and soon enough we were on US 89 headed south.
Along US 89
Near Panguitch, Utah

The first town you come to on 89 is Panguitch, a town settled by Mormon pioneers in 1864.   Their story is one more tale of desperation and perserverence--the kind of story that helps explain why I admire the Mormon people while being terrified of the Mormon church.  Today, thanks to nearby Bryce Canyon National Park and other recreational venues in the area, Panguitch survives mostly through the tourist trade.

We didn't stop in Panguitch, though, nor did we take the sidetrip to Bryce Canyon.  Instead we continued south toward Kanab, passing a series of billboards advertising a restaurant and its "Ho Made Pies."  Didn't sound very Mormon, but then, neither did the billboards advertising Polygamy Porter that appeared at the time of the Salt Lake Olympics.  We didn't stop for pie, either, so I can't really comment on the quality of the goods made by those poor Hos.

US Highway 89 Southbound
Kane County, Utah

US 89 is a beautiful drive through southern Utah.  It takes off from Interstate 15 near Provo, and parallels the Interstate on the eastern side of the mountains.  South of Panguitch and Utah Highway 12 which leads to Bryce Canyon, the route has been designated The Mount Carmel Scenic Byway.  Heading south, we were descending what's been called The Grand Staircase, a geologic formation that begins with the Grand Canyon and extends northward to Bryce Canyon and beyond.  The "steps" of the staircase include the Chocolate Cliffs, the Vermillion Cliffs, the White Cliffs, the Grey Cliffs, and the Pink Cliffs.  We certainly saw all of those colors in the rocks walls along the highway.  I wish I had known then what I have since found out about the local topography.  I would have insisted on more camera stops, rather than relying on taking pictures through the windows of a moving vehicle.

The Pink Cliffs?
Kane County, Utah

Driving south-bound on 89, you must make a decision at Kanab.  Highway 89 turns due east, and stays north of the Utah/Arizona state line while 89A continues south, crossing the state line then paralleling the north rim of the Grand Canyon, albeit at quite a distance away.  The two eventually reconnect in northern Arizona, but 89 is a faster highway in that it is both wider and has fewer twists and turns than the alternate.  I've now traveled both, and I would be hard put to say which is the more scenic.  It all depends on what you like in scenery.  For this trip, we turned east at Kanab and headed toward the Escalante Canyon and Glen Canyon Dam.

Descending the Grand Staircase
US Highway 89, Kane County Utah

Just north of Glen Canyon Dam, the road turns south again and crosses into Arizona.  I made Kevin stop the truck so I could take a picture of the dam through the safety barrier fence that lines the highway.  The dam is impressive, as I find all such dams impressive, and I never miss the opportunity to photograph these structures. 

Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River
Page, Arizona

We refueled in Page, Arizona, a town built to service Glen Canyon Dam, and couldn't help but notice that watersports were particularly popular in this desert community.  Highway 89 was closed south of Page due to reconstruction necessary after a landslide buckled the pavement back in 2013.  The Arizona Department of Transportation paved Navajo Highway 20 and opened it as US 89 Temporary.  They estimate it will take two years to rebuild the original highway.  If you're interested in such things, KPHO, the CBS affiliate in Phoenix, has a fascinating article on line about the incident.

The drive on into Flagstaff, and ultimately Phoenix, was notable only in that we missed every single opportunity I had planned out to grab a few Arizona geocaches.  I had geocached in 17 states and the Canadian province of British Columbia, but had never scored a find in Arizona.  I was determined that this trip would remedy that situation, but even though I had several caches programmed into my Garmin, we managed to miss every one of them.  Oh well.

We stopped for a late lunch in Flagstaff, and in no time at all we were on Interstate 17 heading south to Phoenix.  Dinner with friend Jeffory at a Chinese restaurant was fun, and after dinner we found wonderful lodgings through the HotelTonight app on my iPhone.  Two days of driving had carried us over 1260 miles and lots of scenic landscapes.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

By The Time I Get to Phoenix, Day 1

Mount Powell at Sunrise
Deer Lodge, Montana

The end of October found Kevin and me making a quick trip to Phoenix, Arizona.  Just a down and back, but an interesting four day drive, none-the-less.  We arose early on Saturday morning, October 25, and were on the road by 6 a.m.  It was still dark and quite foggy here at Wild Horse Plains, Montana, and I guessed we'd be in fog all the way to Butte, some three hours away.  Well, the fog lifted around Drummond, and by the time we passed Deer Lodge, there was color in the sky.  

Turning south on I-15 just west of Butte, I was reminded once again that most of Silver Bow County, like most of Montana, is rural.  Yes, Silver Bow is the smallest county in area in the state, and yes, one hundred years ago, fully one fourth of the people of Montana lived there, but still, once you get outside of Butte and the surrounding communities, there's a lot of open land.  By  the time we crossed into Madison County, the fog was returning, and when we crossed the next line into Beaverhead County, it was back full force.

Beaverhead County Line, I-15 Southbound

We stopped for gas in Dillon, but held off on breakfast till we could get to Dell.  I use any excuse I can to eat at the Dell Calf-A (say it out loud if you don't get the name), and I recommend it to all traveling through southern Beaverhead County.  With our bellies more than full, we returned to I-15 and soon were crossing Monida Pass and heading south into Idaho.  We had heard that Idaho had raised the speed limit to 80 mph, but this was our first chance to experience it.  Clark County, Jefferson County, Bonneville County and Bingham County all flew by, although we did stop for gas near Blackfoot.  No more stops in Idaho, not even at the Near Eastern restaurant I so enjoyed last time I was in Pocatello, and in no time at all we crossed into Utah.

Utah, too, has raised the speed limit to 80 on I-15, and it seems we traversed the northern part of the state rather quickly.  I love photographing public buildings, but as Kevin was in no mood to get off the interstate in Salt Lake City, I had to take this picture of the Utah state capitol through the windshield of a speeding pickup truck.  Sorry 'bout that.

The Utah State Capitol
I-15 Southbound, Salt Lake City, Utah

South of the metropolis, we needed fuel and stopped in Fillmore.  Much to my surprise, I was able to get shots of two government buildings in this seat of Millard County.  As we passed the sign noting that we had entered Millard County, my first thought was of our thirteenth President, and sure enough, both the county and its seat are named for the man who was President when Utah became a territory.  Although it seems to me they got the names backward.  Shouldn't the town be Millard and the county Fillmore?  

Turns out that Brigham Young selected this spot in the Pahvent Valley to serve as the capital of his proposed state.  Originally, the proposed state of Deseret included most of the land the US claimed through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and spread from the Pacific Ocean in southern California to the west slope of the Rockies in Colorado.  When California entered the union in 1850, Utah Territory was created with its boundaries significantly reduced.  It covered only present day Nevada, Utah, and the southwestern corner of Wyoming.  Fillmore was in the geographic center of that area, and Young felt it was the perfect location for his new capital.  Young laid the cornerstone and over a period of two years the first wing of a proposed four-wing building was built.  The Utah Territorial Legislature met there for three terms before the capital was moved back to Salt Lake City.  I also photographed the Millard County Court House which stands on the main street of Fillmore, just in front of the original capitol building.  

The Utah Territorial Capitol
Fillmore, Utah

With the gas tank full and no further photographic side trips envisioned, we got back on I-15 and drove on to Beaver.  Kevin remembered a good Mexican restaurant in Beaver, as well as a decent priced motel.  We didn't try the restaurant, and found that the motel he remembered was now quite expensive.  We found another place to stay and I checked on Yelp for a place to eat.  While not the one that Kevin remembered, we ended up eating (at my insistence) at Maria's Cocina where I had the best restaurant-cooked chile relleno I've ever had.  Their flan, however, left a lot to be desired, in my opinion.  Definitely not worth the extra blood sugar.

After dinner we retired to our motel, and rested happily after a day on the road.  One last note about Beaver, Utah.  Beaver (the city) is the county seat of Beaver County.  The High School is, predictably, Beaver High School, and what do you suppose their mascot is?  You got it, they're the Beaver High School Bandicoots.  Nope, just kidding.  They're the Beaver High School Beavers. Really now, doesn't anyone in the area have any imagination?

Evening skies over Beaver, Utah

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Third Sunday Drive, Day Seven: Grand Teton and Yellowstone

To market, to market to buy a fat hog
Home again, home again jiggity jog!
--Nursery Rhyme

(I bet you thought I wouldn't find a youtube video for this.  You'd be wrong.  There are dozens of youtube videos for this nursery rhyme, but I'm not going to link to any of them.  They're all sickeningly sweet, imho.)

The Cowboy Cafe in Dubois serves a fine breakfast and is very popular.  The popularity may be due to the fact that there are few choices available.  And while it was possible to eat outside at a sidewalk table, we chose a table indoors, one that we shared with other guests.  Then to fill up the Saab's gas tank where we learned that BankofAmerica had finally, one week late, caught on to the fact that my debit card wasn't being used in Plains, Montana, so froze the account.  Really BofA, do I have to tell you every time I leave home?

Pinnacle Buttes (I think) near Brooks Lake, Wyoming

It's 65 miles from Dubois to Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton National Park, and the scenery along US 287 is stunning.  We pulled off a few times to snap some pictures, but just before noon we stopped to buy some supplies in the park.  The visitor center at Colter Bay is quite different from the ones I'm used to seeing in Glacier, Yosemite, or even Yellowstone next door.  There is a sign noting how the design of the building marked a "New Era."

The Jackson Lake Lodge introduced a new standard for national park architecture in the 1950s.  This building marked the transition in national parks from rustic to modern design.  Famed architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood revolutionized park architecture by combining modern materials with rustic accents, such as the wood grain-textured concrete seen on this building.
 Frankly, I prefer the old era, but I have to admit that the windows of the lodge offer quite a view--and since the whole western wall is glass, you get the complete panorama of the Teton Range and Jackson Lake, just outside the building.

 Jackson Lake and the Teton Range
Colter Bay Village, Wyoming

Just north of Grand Teton, the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway crosses into Yellowstone National Park.  In my experience, September is a great time to visit Yellowstone.  The kids are back in school, and you're competing with grandpa and grandma and their Winnebago for space.  This year was not that way.  While we didn't see a lot of kids, there were cars (and people) everywhere.  I don't recall ever seeing so many people at Old Faithful, and the parking lots at the different geyser basins were so full that I didn't bother even trying to get off the highway.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Teton Range through the trees
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

I found it hard to get a clear photo of the Yellowstone National Park sign, so many people were attempting the shot at the same time.  Most of them were in couples, and had to take a shot with one or the other hanging on the sign.   At Lewis Falls, we pulled into the only open space I found and then battled the traffic to get a good shot of the 30' fall on the Lewis River.  At Yellowstone Lake, we drove around the parking lot several times before we found a place to park and have a late lunch.  Old Faithful's parking lot was similarly packed, but we were able to find a spot, park the car, and hike over to the viewing area just in time to catch the performance. 

Obligatory Old Faithful Shot
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Back in the car and headed north, I hated to drive by the Fountain Paint Pots, one of my favorite areas in the park, but the lot was jam-packed and people were parking along the roadway.  At this point, I was in my "Let's just get home" mode, and didn't care to deal with all the tourists.  At Madison Junction we turned west toward West Yellowstone, and about half-way along that road we once again found a spot where the roadside was clogged with parked cars.  Looking out the window, we saw a cow elk across the Madison River, and shortly thereafter found a place to pull the Saab off the road.  Who am I to turn down such a potential shot?  The cow was attractive, but once out of the car I saw that a lot of folk were gathered up ahead on our side of the river.  As I got closer, I saw a bull elk grazing, seemingly oblivious to the folk who were crowding around him.  This seemed like a disaster waiting to happen, and I have better sense than to stick my camera in a bull elk's face, but that's what telephoto lenses are for, right?  John and I climbed back into the car and were able to catch the guy from a safe distance.  Best shot I've ever taken of such a magnificent creature.

Bull Elk on the Madison River
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Before we knew it, we were out of the park, through West Yellowstone, and heading north toward Bozeman.  The elk was the last shot I took that day, and after dinner in Belgrade, we hit I-90 for home.  Alas, the day got to me, and the weather was turning nasty.  Rather than risk driving through the Hellgate Canyon in the dark battling a major storm, we stopped for the night in Deer Lodge.  The next day we continued on to Missoula, then finally to Plains, stopping only to take some shots of graffiti covered boxcars at Clinton.  The art was impressive, but so pornographic that I won't show it here.  Suffice it to say that by 2 p.m. we were home in Plains, having driven a total of 3,659 miles and having taken some 468 photos in ten states.  A very enjoyable Sunday Drive.

Oh, and the nursery rhyme with which I opened this post?  Once home I learned that Kevin had gone to the Sanders County Fair and bought not one but two fat hogs from the 4-H kids--meat that now resides in our freezer.